🗳 Q&A with candidates for the Los Alamitos School Board; New rules for recall campaigns; O.C. Teacher named one of CA's Teachers of the Year

Free webinar on Fentanyl dangers; 📱The hottest app asks teens to compliment each other; Cypress School District approves 9% pay raise for teachers;

Free webinar on Fentanyl dangers; 📱The hottest app asks teens to compliment each other; Cypress School District approves 9% pay raise for teachers;

Helping you better understand, navigate and participate in the TK-12 public school experience in Orange County.

In this week's newsletter...

October 18, 2022

  • FIRST BELL 🔔 🗳Candidates for the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education answer questions.
  • SECOND BELL 🔔 New rules for recall campaigns in California.
  • EXTRA CREDIT 📌 Free webinar on dangers of Fentanyl; Plus, why thousands of kids will be looking for cover on Thursday at 10:20a.m.
  • RECESS 👏🏼 The O.C. educator named one of California's Teachers of the Year for 2023.

Four candidates, including two incumbents, are running for two seats on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education. Photo by Jeannette Andruss.

Spotlight Schools is a nonpartisan, hyperlocal newsroom covering education in Orange County and this is our weekly newsletter.

If you haven't signed up for our newsletter, click here. And be sure to visit the Spotlight Schools website to read more local education news, check out past editions of our newsletter, learn more about our newsroom and even become a supporter of our journalism. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter for news and updates. 

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Yours in knowledge,

Jeannette Andruss, Co-Founder and Chief Editorial Officer


This Week's Top Story

🗳 Election 2022: Los Alamitos School Board Candidates answer questions

A map of the Trustee Areas for the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education. For the first time, seats for Trustee Areas 1 and 3 are on the ballot. Courtesy Los Alamitos USD website.

We’re three weeks away from Election Day and Spotlight Schools is continuing to cover races for school boards in Orange County. We’re sending the same five questions to candidates asking for your vote in the 28 public school districts in the county. 

See our comprehensive list of the candidates running in each school district here.

This week we’re hearing from the four candidates vying for two seats on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education which enacts policy affecting the 9,000 students at nine campuses in Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Rossmoor. 

This is the second time voters have cast ballots under the district's new election system. In 2020, the school district changed from district-wide elections to trustee area elections. Instead of voters selecting from all of the candidates on the ballot, now voters pick one candidate living in their trustee area to represent them. There are five trustee areas. 

Not sure which trustee area you live in? Search an interactive map here.

For the first time, the seats for Trustee Area 1 and Trustee Area 3 are on the ballot. In Trustee Area 1, incumbent and former teacher Marlys Davidson is facing Colin Edwards, a parent and former staffer for elected officials. In Trustee Area 3, current Board President Diana Hill, a former district parent who was first elected to the board in 2010, is facing newcomer and district parent Rona Goldberg. 

You can visit a candidate’s campaign website by clicking on their name below. The candidates are listed in reverse alphabetical order. (Spotlight Schools alternates between listing candidates in alphabetical and reverse alphabetical order.) Each candidate was emailed the following five questions and given a maximum of 250 words to respond to each one. 

  1. Why are you running for the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education? 
  2. If elected/reelected, what is the first thing that you would like to do?
  3. What is the biggest challenge facing families in your school district right now?
  4. What is something that makes you excited about public education right now?
  5. Most can’t vote, but your leadership will impact pupils in numerous ways. What do you want students to know about your candidacy?
We’re only listing the response to one of the questions in the newsletter. You can read candidates’ responses to all five questions on the Spotlight Schools website, plus see a breakdown of the voters in each trustee area.

Trustee Area 1

Candidates: Colin Edwards and Marlys Davidson 

QUESTION: What is the biggest challenge facing public school families in your school district right now?

Colin Edwards, Parent/Orange County Business Owner 

Colin Edwards, a parent of two young children and former staffer to state lawmakers, is running to represent Trustee Area 1 on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education. Photo courtesy of the Edwards campaign website.

RESPONSE: “I think one of the biggest challenges in our school district is getting our math proficiency numbers higher. Schools everywhere experienced a Covid slump in academic performance, and we have an opportunity now to renew emphasis on math and science so that our kids meet or exceed proficiency levels. I want every student to be competitive in their college applications or for their career field after high school. In order to do this, we need strong academics at every grade, including elementary levels.”

Marlys Davidson, Los Alamitos USD Board of Education Trustee

First elected in a district-wide ballot in 2018, Marlys Davidson is running for reelection to represent Trustee Area 1 on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education. Photo courtesy of the Davidson campaign website.

RESPONSE: “When I speak with our families about the challenges they face, a common thread is the challenge to create the best life possible for our children in a fast-paced, complex, and competitive world. Some share that there is never enough time for family. Others fear their children are not finding connections and seem to be isolated and alone.

Research done by a Stanford University-affiliated program of middle and high school students nationwide found:

  • 95% are sleep deprived 
  • 77% experience stress-related health symptoms
  • 63% are constantly worried about academics
  • 62% say workload is a major source of stress
  • 47% are disengaged or simply “doing school”

On this Board, I am dedicated to working with the district and families to address the challenges our students face and to create an environment that supports and engages every student. Our work includes: 

  • instituting a policy limiting the length of time for homework assignments during the week and honoring family time on weekends and holidays
  • providing free online tutoring for grades 6th-12th covering 60 academic subjects and on campus tutoring by many of our teachers
  • providing parent education workshops for support

Our campuses have wide varieties of clubs and organizations to engage every student. WellSpace centers provide welcoming places, so no child is left alone at recess or lunch. Assemblies and activities are dedicated to reaching a broad base of our student population. The Stanford study tells us that ‘it’s time to embrace a broader definition of success and transform the student experience.’”

Trustee Area 3

Candidates: Diana Hill and Rona Goldberg

QUESTION: What is something that makes you excited about public education right now? 

Diana Hill, Los Alamitos USD Board of Education member

First elected in 2010, current Board President Diana Hill is running for reelection to represent Trustee Area 3 on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education.

RESPONSE: “Mental health has come out of the shadows, and we have the opportunity to help our students and families find ways to have healthy minds and relationships. When we have a healthy heart and mind, we can achieve our goals better. If we want our children to thrive in the Arts, Academics, Athletics, and Activities, they need to be ready to do so.  Our job is to educate the whole child. I’m excited that we have the opportunity to make an impact in this area now.”

Rona Goldberg, Parent

Parent and former teacher Rona Goldberg is running to represent Trustee Area 3 on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education. Photo courtesy of the Goldberg campaign website.

RESPONSE: “The thing that makes me most excited about public education right now is the fact that since Covid, more parents and other people in our community are paying attention to what is happening and being taught in public school classrooms. I believe in public education and want to make Los Alamitos School District the desirable and sought-after school district that we all remember and expect. The new and latest trends in education are not necessarily good for our students. I am a licensed teacher and I know what good education is. As a Lead Teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I taught student teachers what should occur in the classroom, like persistence, rigor, character, kindness, grit, etc. And students still want to excel in the basics in an enjoyable environment. During the Covid years, Los Alamitos parents also had the opportunity to see what should and should not be taught in classrooms. 

I am excited that this year you have the opportunity to do something about changing the direction of our schools by electing me to the school board. I will represent common-sense values as your Los Alamitos School Board Member for Trustee Area 3. Once I’m on the school board, we can start the process of returning the Los Alamitos Schools to their standard of academic excellence.”

See how the candidates for the Los Alamitos USD Board of Education responded to more questions, including the first thing they would do if elected, here.

✏️ Not your school board? Be sure to visit the Spotlight Schools website for a full list of all of the candidates running for school boards across Orange County. More information about voting at ocvote.com.


Other Stories We're Following

Cypress School District Board of Trustees approves pay raises for teachers

Members of the Association of Cypress Teachers rally before mediation talks with Cypress School District in July. The two sides reached an agreement that was adopted by the Board of Trustees on Oct. 13. Photo from the public ACT Instagram account.

Almost a year after the Cypress School District began negotiations with its teachers’ union, the district’s Board of Trustees officially ratified an agreement during their Oct. 13 board meeting.

After traditional negotiations failed, a state mediator had to be called in to resolve a deadlock between CSD and the Association of Cypress Teachers (ACT), which represents the district’s approximately 200 teachers. The sticking point in the contract talks was over salary increases and benefits. 

It was the first time in the district’s long history that the school district and its teachers failed to voluntarily reach an agreement. The agreement negotiated by the mediator calls for a 3% pay raise retroactive for the 2021-22 school year and another 6% increase effective July 1, 2022, both sides have confirmed. 

This amounts to a cost of roughly $19 million or about $98,872 on average per affected employee, according to the district

The ACT membership approved the pending agreement in September almost immediately after the two sides agreed on the new terms. 

“We are very happy to have an agreement,” said Dr. Tim McLellan, CSD Assistant Supt. for Business Services. “The district wants to see our teachers paid as much as possible within the budget,” he said. 

“We are happy the Board approved the contract,” said Elizabeth Dunagan, a teacher who has acted as the ACT’s chief negotiator throughout the process.

This article was written and reported by David N. Young. Read his entire story on the Spotlight Schools website here.

New rules for recalls in California

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that adds new requirements to launch recall elections. File photo from Reuters.

In 2021, 92 recall efforts were launched against school board members nationwide according to Ballotpedia, with proponents citing frustration over school closures due to Covid-19 among other reasons. 

In Orange County, the Los Alamitos Unified School District has faced two failed recall efforts over the past two years. A recall effort targeting Tustin Unified School District Board of Education members also failed last year. 

Now the rules governing recall campaigns will change.

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill AB 2584 into law which adds more requirements to starting a recall effort. 

For instance, launching a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition will now require the proponents to collect at least 30 signatures from registered voters in the area represented by the official being targeted. It used to be 10.

Another change is that the official reasons proponents list on a recall petition for ousting an elected official must meet the same standards of candidates’ statements. The language could be blocked if the claims are proven to be “false” or “misleading.” 

“And what that means is that if someone has a petition for a recall, the person who's being recalled can read it and say, ‘these are not true facts.’ And then it goes to a judge and the people present their case and a judge makes the decision,” Los Alamitos USD Board member Meg Cutuli said at the October 11 board meeting and added, “So that was my favorite change that they made.” 

Cutuli was one of three board members targeted in a failed recall effort in 2021. She has shared that she testified to state lawmakers about her experience and was pleased by the passage of the new law set to take effect in January, 2023. 

Read the full story on the new recall rules on the Spotlight Schools website.

Here’s a list of some other bills related to education that Gov. Newsom made decisions on last month: 

Griffins too much for undefeated Chargers 

Los Alamitos High School's defensive lineman Kaleb McCutcheon had an interception and sack in the Griffins' 52-27 victory over the undefeated Edison Chargers. Photo by Marja Bene.

One of the most anticipated games in California high school football was played Oct. 13 between the undefeated Edison Chargers and the Los Alamitos Griffins. The Sunset League showdown at Huntington Beach High School featured two teams, both jockeying for position heading toward the playoffs.

When Los Al's opening drive ended in an interception, only to be matched by a Chargers interception on the very next play; everyone knew they would be in for an incredible game and it did not disappoint.

Read Michael Claborn’s entire recap of last week’s game here on the Spotlight Schools website.

RELATED: 🏈 Undefeated Cypress Centurions move up in rankings // The O.C. Register

💡Forwarded from a friend? Subscribe to the FREE Spotlight Schools newsletter here.

Other Stories We're Reading

  • Preliminary glimpse at some of the largest CA school districts' test scores shows steep declines in reading, math // EdSource
  • Proposition 28 asks CA voters to approve $1 billion for arts and music in schools // L.A. Times
  • Conservatives launch a 'Parent Revolt' for control of school boards in California // EdSource
  • San Clemente investigating allegations Mission Viejo football players were targeted by racist comments at game // The O.C. Register
  • Respiratory illness outbreak keeps 1,000 students home from 2 San Diego County high schools // CBS8
  • The hottest app right now is one where teens have to say nice things about each other // Wall Street Journal  // Gizmodo
  • How California students can earn the State Seal of Civic Engagement on their high school diploma  // Ed100 
  • O.C. high school football player becomes first girl in CA to score two TDs in one game // The O.C. Register


Meetings // Events // Opportunities // Resources


FREE WEBINAR ON FENTANYL: You may have seen the recent reports of teenagers in California overdosing or dying from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. This Thursday, Oct. 20, at 6:00p.m., parents will have a chance to learn more about how to protect their children from the dangers of this lethal drug in a free webinar from the Los Alamitos USD and the Orange County Health Care Agency. Register for the event here or by clicking on the image below.

GREAT CALIFORNIA SHAKEOUT EARTHQUAKE DRILL: On Thursday, at 10:20 a.m. students and staff at 135 K-12 schools in Orange County will participate in California's biggest annual earthquake drill. During the Great ShakeOut, thousands of people will “Drop! Cover! Hold on!” at the same time to practice what to do during a real earthquake. Find out more information here.

💡 DID YOU KNOW? California's 4th graders can become Preparedness Ambassadors and help their communities understand more about natural disasters? Find out more about this state-run program here.

MCGAUGH ELEMENTARY CARNIVAL: This Saturday, Oct. 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00p.m., McGaugh Elementary school in Seal Beach will host its Carnival, PTA's biggest annual community event and fundraiser. Find out more, and buy tickets, here.

For the record: The co-founder of Spotlight Schools is a member of the McGaugh PTA Executive Board.

Do you have a carnival or event happening on your campus you want us to know about? Email hello@spotlightschools.com.


Your Dose of Good News

O.C. music educator named one of California's five Teachers of the Year for 2023

Music educator Ben Case was named one of the five California Teachers of the Year for 2023. Photo courtesy of the O.C. Department of Education.

Ben Case, an instrumental music and music theory teacher in the Irvine Unified School District, has been named one of California’s five 2023 Teachers of the Year. 

Case teaches at Northwood High School where he has grown its instrumental musical programs to include nearly 800 students participating in band and orchestra. It’s one of the biggest programs in all of California, reports the Orange County Department of Education Newsroom

“This is all so surreal, and I am humbled to even be part of the conversation,” Case told the OCDE Newsroom. “These past few years have brought us challenges we could never have imagined, but they have also reinforced the reasons why I got into teaching to begin with — the inspirational relationships we foster with students and colleagues alike.”

Case is no stranger to winning awards for his teaching. He was named among six O.C. Teachers of the Year in May and his district’s Teacher of the Year last academic year. 

🎶 Read the whole story on Case on the OCDE Newsroom website.

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